With ‘Blue Monday’ fast approaching, it would be tempting to think the most depressing day of the year will pack an extra gloomy punch when it rolls around next week.
Yet, unexpectedly, there are reasons to be cheerful, with new figures suggesting that Britain may have turned a corner in the coronavirus second wave.
Latest surveillance figures from Public Health England (PHE) shows cases of coronavirus declined between January 4 and 10 in all age groups except the over-80s.
While the over-80s are at most risk from the virus, it is the younger groups who are more likely to spread the disease, so cutting transmission in lower age groups should soon stop the spread in older people.
More than one third (1,036,605/34.6 per cent) of people aged 80 and over in England have also now been vaccinated, which should also help to bring case numbers down in this group more quickly.
Cases are now falling in all locations except for the North West, South West and West Midlands, which should start to translate into lower admissions and deaths in the coming weeks. Separate Telegraph analysis of the data also gives grounds for optimism.
Weekly case rates are falling in more than one in four English local authorities
Latest available figures from between January 1 and January 8, show that more than one in four local authorities in England saw a week-on-week decreases of confirmed cases.
Some 86 of the 315 local authorities in England are now seeing falls including some of the worst-affected areas in large parts of the South East.
Castle Point and Epping Forest recorded falls of more than 20 per cent while case rates in Basildon hace decreased by 16.1 per cent and Havering by 14.3 per cent.
The largest fall was seen in Brentwood, with a 34.3 per cent drop, reducing its case rate below 1,000 per 100,000.
It is especially good news because these are areas devastated by the UK variant, which is between 40 and 75 per cent more infectious than the traditional virus.
There were fears that current restrictions would not be enough to bring the new variant under control because of its extra transmissibility, but these new figures show that the latest measures are working.
But more than half (53 per cent) of the 64 local authorities in the south east are now showing declines. Likewise London is now seeing declines in 11 of its 32 boroughs. And there are also early signs of a possible plateau in hospital admissions in parts of London and the South East.
In London, the seven-day rolling average of new Covid admissions per 100,00 people reached 67.9 for two days on January 8th and 9th, before falling to 66.4 on January 10th.
It comes after the admission rate doubled in just 17 days in London, from 34.4 per 100,00 on December 23.
The rise in hospital admissions also appears to be slowing in the South East, hovering between 51.4 and 52.6 for the last four days after doubling in the previous 18 days.
Research published on Friday from the MRC Biostatistics Unit Covid-19 working group suggests the R number in London and the south east is now around 0.6. The team expects deaths to peak in the coming days.
Lead researcher, Professor Daniela De Angelis, said: "The combination of Tier 4 restrictions introduced on the 19th of December and reduced activity over the Christmas period has resulted in decreased transmission."
Yet the country is by no means out of the woods, with hospitalisations, ICU admissions and deaths still continuing to increase nationally. Admissions tend to follow cases by around a week, and deaths would be expected to decline within a fortnight of new patients falling.
Vaccinations by UK region
“We hopefully are starting to see some impact of the lockdown for newly-reported cases, but there is a lag time before cases reflect hospitalisations and deaths,” Dr Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health, University of Southampton.
Case rates in London continue to be alarmingly high with nearly one in 100 people testing positive for the virus. That figure does not include asymptomatic cases which will make true infection rates far higher.
In some areas of England, notably the North West, case rates are continuing to rise dramatically. In parts of the Liverpool city region (Knowsley, St Helens, Liverpool and Sefton), case rates have more than doubled in the space of a week.
As a result, Liverpool, Knowsley and Sefton are now seeing case rates higher than 1,000 per 100,000, meaning one in 100 people is now testing positive for coronavirus, even excluding asymptomatic cases.
A total of 41 local authorities (13 per cent) now have case rates higher than 1,000 per 100,000.
Dr Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at Public Health England, said: “The rate that people are being admitted to hospital is now higher than at any point during the pandemic.
“Worryingly these numbers are likely to continue to get worse before we see the benefits of our efforts to protect the NHS, which will mean more pressure for our health service than ever before.”
Yet earlier this week, Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser said the public was doing a ‘pretty good job’ of sticking to rules, and is now confident that current restrictions can beat the second wave.
With cases coming down, and the vaccine roll-out now well underway, the end of the tunnel is getting ever closer. A final collective push is all it will now take to finally reach the exit.